MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II FOR LENT 2004
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. The evocative rite of the imposition of ashes marks the beginning of the
holy season of Lent, when the Liturgy once more calls the faithful to radical
conversion and trust in God’s mercy.
This year’s theme - "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me."
(Mt 18:5) - invites us to reflect on the condition of children. Today Jesus
continues to call them to himself and to set them as an example to all those who
wish to be his disciples. Jesus’ words call upon us to see how children are
treated in our families, in civil society, and in the Church. They are also an
incentive to rediscover the simplicity and trust which believers must cultivate
in imitation of the Son of God, who shared the lot of the little ones and the
poor. Saint Clare of Assisi loved to say that Christ, "lay in a manger, lived in
poverty on the earth and died naked on the Cross." (Testament, Franciscan
Sources, No. 2841).
Jesus had a particular love for children because of "their simplicity, their
joy of life, their spontaneity, and their faith filled with wonder" (Angelus
Message, 18 December 1994). For this reason he wishes the community to open its
arms and its heart to them, even as he did: "Whoever receives one such child in
my name receives me" (Mt 18:5). Alongside children Jesus sets the "very least of
the brethren:" the suffering, the needy, the hungry and thirsty, strangers, the
naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. In welcoming them and loving them, or in
treating them with indifference and contempt, we show our attitude towards him,
for it is in them that he is particularly present.
2. The Gospel recounts the childhood of Jesus in the simple home of Nazareth,
where he was obedient to his parents and "increased in wisdom and in years, and
in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52). By becoming himself a child, he wished to
share our human experience. "He emptied himself," writes the Apostle Paul,
"taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found
in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a
Cross" (Phil 2:7-8). When at twelve years old he remained in the Temple in
Jerusalem, he said to his parents who anxiously looked for him: "How is it that
you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?" (Lk 2:49).
Indeed, his whole life was marked by a trusting and filial obedience to his
heavenly Father. "My food," he said, "is to do the will of him who sent me, and
to accomplish his work" (Jn 4:34).
In the years of his public life Jesus often insisted that only those who
become like children will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt 18:3; Mk 10:15; Lk
18:17; Jn 3:3). In his teaching, young children become a striking image of the
disciple who is called to follow the divine Master with childlike docility:
"Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of
Heaven" (Mt 18:4).
"To become" one of the least and "to receive" the little ones: these are two
aspects of a single teaching which the Lord repeats to his disciples in our
time. Only the one who makes himself one of the "least" is able to receive with
love the "least" of our brothers and sisters.
3. Many believers strive faithfully to follow these teachings of the Lord.
Here I would mention those parents who willingly take on the responsibility of a
large family, mothers and fathers who, rather than considering success in their
profession and career as the highest value, make every effort to pass on to
their children those human and religious values that give true meaning to life.
With great admiration I also think of all those committed to caring for
underprivileged children and those who alleviate the sufferings of children and
their families resulting from war and violence, inadequate food and water,
forced immigration and the many forms of injustice present in the world.
Together with such great generosity, however, a word must be said about the
selfishness of those who do not "receive" children. There are young people who
have been profoundly hurt by the violence of adults: sexual abuse, forced
prostitution, involvement in the sale and use of drugs; children forced to work
or enlisted for combat; young children scarred forever by the breakup of the
family; little ones caught up in the obscene trafficking of organs and persons.
What too of the tragedy of AIDS and its devastating consequences in Africa? It
is said that millions of persons are now afflicted by this scourge, many of whom
were infected from birth. Humanity cannot close its eyes in the face of so
appalling a tragedy!
4. What evil have these children done to merit such suffering? From a human
standpoint it is not easy, indeed it may be impossible, to answer this
disturbing question. Only faith can make us begin to understand so profound an
abyss of suffering. By becoming "obedient unto death, even death on a Cross"
(Phil 2:8), Jesus took human suffering upon himself and illuminated it with the
radiant light of his resurrection. By his death, he conquered death once for
During Lent, we prepare to relive the Paschal Mystery, which sheds the light
of hope upon the whole of our existence, even its most complex and painful
aspects. Holy Week will again set before us this mystery of salvation in the
evocative rites of the Easter Triduum.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, let us set out with trust on our Lenten journey,
sustained by fervent prayer, penance and concern for those in need. In
particular, may this Lent be a time of ever greater concern for the needs of
children, in our own families and in society as a whole: for they are the future
5. With childlike simplicity let us turn to God and call him, as Jesus taught
us in the prayer of the "Our Father", "Abba," "Father."
Our Father! Let us repeat this prayer often during Lent; let us repeat it
with deep emotion. By calling God "Our Father," we will better realize that we
are his children and feel that we are brothers and sisters of one another. Thus
it will be an easier for us to open our hearts to the little ones, following the
invitation of Jesus: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me"
In this hope, I invoke upon each of you God’s blessings, through the
intercession of Mary, Mother of the Word of God made man and Mother of all
From the Vatican, 8 December 2003